I need help with a serious dilemma. When we moved to Los Angeles over 27 years ago, it was my first time in California. There were many striking sights and unusual phenomena (use your imagination!) but one of them, believe it or not, was the prevalence of nail salons. Long before there was a Starbucks on every corner there was a manicurist. To me it was absurd.

When I was growing up, manicures were extremely rare – and reserved for very special occasions (for my mother that is, not me!). But assimilation takes it toll and what once seemed ridiculous to me has now become an appetite. I find myself admiring the beautifully polished nails of the women around me – love those summer pinks and oranges – and feeling like my broken, chipped, uneven ones pale in comparison.

I pick up the phone to make an appointment.

Then I think about the time. I have so much to do. How can I just sit there for half an hour (a whole hour if we do my toes and since I’m there already…) not doing anything? A friend of mine downloads Torah classes onto her iPod and listens while her nails are being buffed and filed. I always thought that would be a good idea – if I had an iPod.

I considered that it could be a nice chance to just schmooze but then I reflect that my Vietnamese is weak. And I can’t read since my page-turning fingers would be otherwise occupied.

I accept it’s not going to happen.

Then I glance at my peeling cuticles, compare them to a magazine ad I just saw and reconsider. I dial the number.

Wait! How can I spend the money? Even though, with all the aforementioned competition, the prices are relatively low, it could still be used for other things. Charity or my nails? The choice seems made for me.

I go back to the kitchen. Even if I went, I tell myself, I have no patience to sit there while my nails dry. I’ll only end up leaving early and smudging them – the worst of all worlds. I give up.

Like professional chefs, my hands carry the war wounds of serious work in the kitchen – the burns, the cuts, the calluses. They are a badge of honor. They testify to chores done, a house maintained, a family cared for, a life being lived. They are hands to be proud of – even without (especially without?!) the polish.

I can let go of the temptation. I can return to more worthwhile pursuits. I can regain perspective. The Almighty gave me hands to do mitzvot. And I’m trying to fulfill that mandate. A manicure would be a distraction from their real function.

I’m not even going to glance inside the nail salon as I walk by. Well, maybe just a peek. You take walk-ins? That fuchsia looks so terrific…